Thursday, June 18, 2015

Healthcare in Israel

They say that Israel has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. That may be true, but actually using can be a huge PITA.

Our first weekend we arrived here, I came down with a bug that I must have gotten from the kids at the Israeli church we went to. We're still not sure what bug it is, but I'd wake up every morning with a 101-102 fever and a sore throat.

However, the fever would subside by early afternoon each day, so it wasn't of a huge concern for my parents who thought it went away each evening.

But after the 3rd consecutive morning with a fever, we decided to getting some medical attention here in Israel.

Disclaimer: We're a family who travels a lot, and while we may know about frequent flyer programs and hotels, we're not claiming to be experts in medicine or foreign healthcare systems. We're just discussing what we went through - even though there may have been much better alternatives. I just know we're not the only ones to have this issue - see Tripadvisor post here.

Here's where things got tricky. First my father looked up information on the US Embassy website here. Not much help unless we were in the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem area.

So my options to get medical attention in Haifa were (a) to go to the hospital emergency room and end up waiting hours, (b) find a private doctor willing and available to see a new patient that same day or (c) visit a clinic.  Options (a) and (b) weren't very feasible, so we decided on option (c). Unfortunately, to visit a clinic here, my mother claimed that you needed to be a member of the particular health service organization that was running the clinic.

Fortunately, my grandmother found a clinic membership card for me that we could try to use. To be honest, no one is sure how they even had this, but we didn't complain. I will assume, however, that most tourists to Israel won't have this membership card, so good luck with the ER.

So we called and made an appointment for later that morning. Of course, by the time we arrived, my fever had gone away and I was a happy kid again.

Nevertheless, we were already there. Shortly after arriving, a nurse came by to swab my mouth to test for Strep throat while we waited for the actual doctor on duty. After looking at my swollen glands, this nurse was "positively certain" it was strep (it wasn't).

It seemed this clinic doctor was a generalist. The patient before me was a teenage girl with a sprained ankle. The patient after me was a young man in his early 20's with a shameful look on his face. No clue what that was all about.

The doctor (like most I've met) didn't seem alarmed after using a stethoscope to check my lungs and visually examining my throat. My father wasn't worried either, but having been dismayed by mediocre medical professionals in the past, wanted to ask some specific questions. But the doctor only spoke Hebrew. My mother had to translate, though she would often intervene with her own commentary that confused the dialogue even further.

Instead of letting my father ask his questions, the doctor started rambling on about the differences in medical treatment philosophy between the countries (how Israel prefers to give antibiotics just in case), how we should see an ENT specialist because my tonsils looked swollen and I sometimes snore at night, etc etc. Thanks, but not really the topic at hand.

My father just wanted to know what these symptoms might suggest, given that I had a sore throat and fever, but no runny nose or other cold symptoms. Perhaps a bacterial infection such as Strep Throat, though my father knew that to be very rare in young children my age. But that test came back negative (so much for the nurse's eyeball diagnosis).

My father wanted to know (a) why the doctor would give me antibiotics without having an idea of what might be causing it and (b) what other tests are available to identify the issue?

He kept rambling on about seeing the ENT since I had swollen glands. Um, could it be that I'm sick? He then backed off prescribing antibiotics and told my parents to come back if I still had a fever the next morning. If so, then he'd suggest some blood tests.

The next day, I woke up again with another fever. We made another appointment, but with a different location of the same clinic chain. While my father thought we were going to do some blood tests, they were only taking a small sample from a finger prick. Knowing this wasn't enough to run any tests, my father questioned what was going on, but the new doctor assured him everything was fine and even snarkily asked my mother if this was my father's first time at a doctor.

So instead of doing any further work to make any progress, she just repeated the same procedure from the day before, checked my lungs and gave me another strep test. Again, my father wanted to ask his questions, but again, it was met with resistance.

What my father really wanted to know what what we should be doing to prevent me from getting a fever each morning. Something was making me better during the day, but getting my immune system riled up at night. Plus, he wanted to know what the next step was should I keep getting fevers day after day. Blood test, right? Isn't that the reason we came back in the first place?

This doctor (like the other before) probably didn't appreciate my father questioning her. Instead of interpreting my father's questions as educated counter-arguments, she dismissed them as ignorant rantings. So we left without any more information than we already knew. We wasted 2 mornings on doctor's visits that were way too inconclusive to be worth the time or the money.

The next day, we called for my test results. Another doctor said that the Strep test came back negative and when we asked about the blood test, she said they didn't run blood tests because the sample was too small.  Seriously?

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